Track Changes

What happens when software eats the world? Industry veterans Paul Ford and Rich Ziade chat with their friends about technology, design, and business from a distinctly East Coast point of view. Decades of experience inform their no-BS, quick-witted patter what digital transformation really means. Created by Postlight, the digital product studio they co-founded in New York City.
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Track Changes




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May 21, 2019

Technology, You’ve Changed: For years, the conversations we’ve had about tech have focused on the negative. We’ve all heard about how tech giants have infiltrated our politics and our privacy, we’ve ridiculed the power-hungry people behind the platforms we love, but that’s not the technology industry Paul and Rich fell in love with. On today’s episode, we look at where we’re at right now, we ask ourselves if tech giants want to be ethical, and we try to defend an incredibly difficult and powerful industry. We also hear Paul’s top-three favourite tech things!



May 14, 2019

Don’t go chasing easy answers: This week Paul and Rich are joined by Microsoft veteran Adam Barr to speak about his new book, The Problem with Software. Barr worked as a programmer for Microsoft for over 20 years and during this time he saw a number of troubling patterns in software development. We chat with Adam about what’s changed in the industry over the years and about the need for better education for programmers. Adam also gives us an inside scoop on what it was like working for Microsoft in the old days and draws some parallels between Microsoft management and baseball. This episode is a homerun!  


The Problem with Software: Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code

Adam David Barr on Twitter

May 7, 2019

Prioritize growth and allow for risk: This week Paul and Rich come back from holiday to discuss the best ways to encourage creative thinking. We uncover the relationship between reducing clutter and problem solving. We discuss the importance of deadlines and prioritization as tools to better organize your thoughts and make time for the things that matter.

We also discuss the paradoxical trick for better growth and productivity: stepping away from our computer screens rather than towards them.

Apr 30, 2019

Email sucks: On this week’s episode of Track Changes, Paul Ford and Gina Trapani reflect on how Gmail has revolutionized email over the past fifteen years. We recall the many iterations the platform has gone through—going all the way back to the days when it was invite only— and discuss the many flaws that still remain. Is there ever going to be a productive solution to deal with that ever growing pile of emails?



Superhuman: The Fastest Email Experience Ever Made

Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster and Better

Apr 23, 2019

This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich sit down with a live studio audience to discuss funnels. Lately, Salesforce and Mailchimp seem to be everywhere, from the buildings around us to the platforms we’re creating for clients. How can we integrate sales funnels without destroying user trust? Can we understand the immense economy underneath each online click? What does this mean for the future of the platforms we create? Spoiler: Paul created an acronym to help us out!


Apr 16, 2019

Beyond metaphors and into the digital future : In 1973, Xerox PARC introduced the Xerox Alto. It was the first computer to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface. This began the desktop metaphor; the computer monitor as if it were the top of the user's desk. Forty-six years later, the metaphor lives on. We talk about files and documents— even when there’s nothing to print. Why are we still hung up on the desktop? Can we imagine a digital future free of off-screen comparisons? Paul and Rich ponder the possibility, and more.


Apr 9, 2019

The battle over the App Store is far from over: In March Spotify launched Time to Play Fair, a website outlining how Apple mistreats companies like Spotify by charging excessive fees, blocking upgrades and promoting its own services in its App Store. Shortly after, Apple fired back in a press release, making the case that Spotify’s claims are misleading

This week, Paul and Rich weigh in on the squabble. Is Apple really muscling in on Spotify? How symbiotic is their relationship? Why is Spotify making this case now? What are the implications of opting into the platform economy?


Apr 2, 2019

Why Go In?:  On today’s episode of Track Changes, Rich and Paul sit down with Andrew Smith, a journalist and writer who recently learned to code. We talk about following curiosity, and learning to program in a world where almost everything we interact with is mediated by code. We discuss Andrew’s pivot from writing about music and culture, to technology and high-finance, and dissect what that says about our lives today. We also get some insight into Andrew’s most recent research into the kids who ran the internet through 1995 - 2000 (Spoiler: the reasons behind the dot-com crash are a sham!).



Andrew Smith

Andrew on twitter

Moon Dust : In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth

Douglas Rushkoff

Real Player

Quincy Larson

Free Code Camp

Mar 26, 2019

It is always a negotiation: This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich discuss how to be a good manager and leader of people. We compare past experiences we’ve had as managers at our worst and best selves, and what we’ve learned from them (Tip: do not passive aggressively go in!). We discuss the importance of building a culture of speed and execution from the beginning, and how to foster conversation around timelines and scope. Paul and Rich also give tips on how to push back on a manager’s demands, in the right way.


Rich— 2:11: “Consensus and discussion and dialogue around decisions are really important. But as a leader, sometimes you actually want to apply a little pressure … and applying that pressure means there is less dialogue.”

Paul— 7:26: “You are always caught between do I mentor this person and give them a model of thinking that they can apply or do I tell them what I need to get done and assume that they will figure it out later.”

Paul— 13:21: “It really is a negotiation. If you firmly believe that anything less than 6 weeks completely is a risk, then you have to come back to me and say, ‘we have got to cut scope’. We don’t want to fail and be humiliated in public.”

Rich— 16:54: “The best advice I can give [to someone with a manager]… is pause and think about what are the motivations that are creating that pressure. … if you pause and think about those motivators, then a) you start to empathize with why you’re getting that pressure and b) you can actually have dialogue when you are talking to your manager about that pressure. It actually opens up their thinking and they start to see a leader, in you.”

Mar 19, 2019

Turning the universal mouse button on its head: this week, Paul and Rich discuss the importance of getting into new skills and unlearning old habits. We look at Rich’s new interest in Blender, how it’s led to him making a beautiful hotdog, and the time it takes to learn how to use a 6 button mouse (spoiler: it doesn’t take long!). We talk about how the phone is the new computer and what that means for the future of the desktop. We also invite you all to attend our live podcast taping on April 11th at Postlight!


  • blender
  • blender guru
  • the architecture of open source applications
  • net logo
  • jupyter
  • raspberry pi
  • little bits
  • logitech MX Anywhere 2
Mar 12, 2019

Good design doesn’t have to be complex: Like many, Rich feels like a bit of an outsider when it comes to design. To non-designers, the field can seem confusing, at times even intimidating. But it doesn't have to be like this way. At Postlight, design drives the process, and in this episode we break down that process.


Paul and Rich are joined by Postlight’s directors of product design, Skyler Balbus and Matt Quintanilla, who lead Relay, the Postlight design sprint. What is a design sprint? What makes good design? What role should it play in product development? And what makes a great product designer? The team answers these questions and more.



Mar 5, 2019

Can a reclusive coder become a criminal mastermind?: Journalist and author Evan Ratliff spent four years piecing together the story of Paul Le Roux, a programmer who began by selling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of painkillers through an online prescription drug network— but he didn't settle. The rest of Le Roux’s story spirals into a grim parody of startup culture not even a novelist could’ve dreamed up.

In this episode Paul and Rich sit down with Ratliff to discuss his new book, The Mastermind, the true account of the decade-long pursuit of Le Roux. What happens when expertise on information security and internet infrastructure falls into the wrong hands? What could have become of the villainous tech-savvy entrepreneur? What can the tech world take away from this eerie chain of events?


Feb 26, 2019

The web is a mess, and it’s getting messier: This is something you know if you read articles online. Close the pop-up, scroll past the ads, and click ‘next page’ to finish the piece. You’re right, it shouldn’t have to be this hard. In 2009, Rich hacked together simple bookmarklet called Readability, which would turn a cluttered article page into the essentials— a headline, headers, images, and the article.

The project’s impact is undeniable. After more than five years of operation, Readability was shut down and replaced by Postlight’s Mercury Toolkit, a lighter, more flexible open-source web parser. In this episode Paul and Rich are joined by Postlight developer Adam Pache to talk about the online battle over usability, Python versus JavaScript, knowing when to go open source, and contributing to Mercury.


Feb 19, 2019

A Creative Path to Find What's Next :  Harper Reed could have listed his many accomplishments on the historical monument he installed in his parents’ front yard. It could have said that he founded Modest, a mobile retail startup eventually acquired by Paypal, or that he was CTO of Threadless and the 2012 reelection campaign of Barack Obama. Instead, he and his brother Dylan chose to commemorate their exploration of Uranus.

It’s no wonder Rich often hears Paul say “I wonder what Harper Reed would think”. In this episode, we find out; the pair talk to Harper about his dad’s Apple IIc, coming of age during “the most rapid capital expansion in the history of the universe”, political tech, mobile commerce, and what comes next for the defiant technologist.



Feb 12, 2019

Less is more: There’s nothing cool or sexy about a pitch deck. Business folk love them. They’re meant to convince the viewer of something. Some people have a talent for producing them, but most need a bit of guidance. Like them or not, pitch decks run the world— and making a good one may not be as straightforward as you think.

How do you make a purposeful, beautiful, even entertaining deck? Years of appealing to large clients has taught Paul and Rich a thing or two about creating a cogent presentation. In this episode, the two expound some of their knowledge; balancing words with images, the density of your information, understanding your audience and your message, and the power of great design.



Feb 5, 2019

It isn’t Glamorous, But it’s Critical. In this episode, Paul and Rich explore a time-consuming component of product development: Authentication.

You know the drill. You save time and having to memorize another pesky password by using Google or Facebook to log on to a website. But is the proliferation of external authentication providers on the web a good thing or not? Which companies should invest in setting up their own authentication system, and which ones should save their web developers and online visitors the hassle? (Spoiler: Banks should. Any group set growing an audience should not.)

The pair also discuss the merits of Facebook, the difference between being a free and a paying Google customer, and why password managers are a godsend.

Bonus: Rich discovers that his email has fallen foul to multiple data breaches, and is cool with it.




Have I been pwned?

Jan 29, 2019

Behind Every Great Media Outlet Is Clever Analytics Software:This week Rich and Paul speak to Josh Schwartz, chief of product at Chartbeat, the content analytic ssoftware used by media heavy weights across the globe, including The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post.

Which stories work and which ones tank? Do media organizations really need to pivot to video? Is the online quiz dead? Do numbers in a headline matter? Should analytics drive content? Josh talks to Rich and Paul about how Chartbeat’s real-time web traffic reports help editors entice and retain online readers. He also gives his take on operating in a post-GDPR world and on how effective pop-up data collection warnings are. The trio also muse on the future of the data dashboard.


EU General Data Protection Regulation

What the GDPR Means For US Brands

Does journalism have a future?

Jan 22, 2019

Fear, Flattery and Word Salad: In this week’s episode, Paul and Rich spill (not-so-secret) insider secrets and discuss what businesses should be wary of when hiring a digital agency.

Analytics change, as does the in-house vision for a product. How can you ensure that your agency will accommodate the dynamic development process while staying within your budget? Why is it important to remain on equal ground with your agency–and what has that got to do with acronyms?

At what point is it important to worry about scaling? And why should businesses be wary of suggestions that are a little too on-trend? From demanding transparency, communicating clearly, sniffing out flattery, and ensuring that all proposals–no matter how shiny–are entrenched in your core business needs, Paul and Rich have got you covered.

Jan 15, 2019

Conversations are Terrible. Podcasts are Good: 2018 was a rough year for technology in the popular mind. We look at what went wrong to see how it can inform the future tech of 2019.

We could say that 2019 is about accepting the fact that we’re all doomed. Or, in keeping with our theme of optimism, we could look forward to things like 5G networks, better machine learning, and the continued success of Pinterest and Etsy. What does Etsy have that Facebook doesn’t? How can we all accept that community moderation is necessary? Will this years advancements in machine learning lead to better, cheaper, and faster hardware? How can we stay optimistic when competing with the giant platforms like Google and Facebook?



Jan 8, 2019

Tradition and the Digital Age: On this episode of Track Changes, we sit down with Perry Hewitt, the former Chief Digital Officer of Harvard University (ever heard of it?) to break down the duties of her job. 

Perry talks about what it’s like stepping into that role in an institution that emphasizes history and tradition. When Harvard adapts to digital, what kind of problems need to be solved? How do you measure the health of their digital properties? How do you make Harvard look good? We discuss the difference between data informed versus data driven marketing, as well as the blurring lines between product development and marketing. Perry argues that so much of the marketing now is within the product itself — so which end involves deep customer engagement and which involves building a relationship? How does education play a role, and to what end? Why does Rich regard marketing with suspicion? Lastly, Perry sums up the role of CDO by identifying three major points: Building consensus, scoping appropriately, and delivering early. We can get behind that.

Curious about what Postlight can do for you? Hit us up at 

Dec 18, 2018

Cultural Dialogue is The Person Of The Year: People, corporations, and governments expressed their hesitation and suspicion towards tech in 2018. Is Facebook demolishing the pillars of society? Is your child doing Fortnite dances? Where has blockchain landed among ordinary people? On this week's episode we talk about the tech that stood out in 2018 and look at what changed for us internally.

We had Postlight's third year anniversary and have continued growing. We have a little more process and a defined culture. We made a concerted effort to move beyond media into other sectors, and we learned that while relinquishing control feels counterintuitive to running a business, it’s crucial to the physics of growth. Oh yeah, we also released Upgrade!, our how-to for digital transformation.

All of us at Postlight wish you a very happy holiday and a great New Year. We’ll see you in 2019.



Dec 11, 2018

Why Do People Want To See Others Fail? This week on Track Changes, we take a look at the power dynamics that play out when we go into big companies to solve problems and ship software. What happens when organizations show that they don’t want our help after they’ve brought us on? Why are people resistant to scaling? Is it because we’re taking all the cool jobs?

There are three ways to overcome that: Firstly, use your advocate. Let them lead. Somebody brought you here. Your failure is their failure; your success is their success. Second, establish your mandate and keep it brief. Memorize it! This is your best defense against tweaks, delays, and edge cases. Lastly, meet your first promise. Ship early, ship often, and show value. There’s a currency exchange from great design to political capital.

Rich values this advice at $720,000. All listeners will be invoiced.

Dec 4, 2018

There’s a Difference Between School and Real Life: This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich sit down with Allan Chochinov, chair of the MFA in Products of Design program at the School of Visual Arts and founder of design network Core77. We talk about who is really teachable, building good design from huge problems, the vast applications of "design thinking", and how much time is wasted on meetings.

Allan shares two incredible medical UX-design moments that he's witnessed— building an at home diagnostic tool for HIV testing and creating a quick-attach prosthetic limb. Both of these scenarious required empathy towards consumer experiences and pragmatism. These small design gestures can have a big impact.


Paul Ford You’re a— you’re a sensitive, in touch person.

Rich Ziade [Crosstalk] Are you in your fifties, Allan?

Allan Chochinov I am, yeah.

PF It’s a little—

RZ You look great!

PF [Crosstalk] When you realize . . .

AC I’m gonna be 57 soon.

PF Yeah.

RZ What?!?

PF I know— it’s [snickers] we’ve had this conversation.

RZ Oh he’s had LSD—

PF Look at the beautiful hair—

AC My mom’s— [inaudible over crosstalk]

PF Yeah, some grey. Some grey.

RZ I— I can’t see his face right now but the forehead is tremendous.

PF No, no. Alan just won a lottery on this front.

RZ Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Are we recording?

PF We are. We’re talking about—

RZ Steph, feel free to put this stuff in [laughter].

PF [Chuckling] We’re talking about how handsome Allan is [voices fade out, music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. Allan Chochinov, a key person in New York City tech and design for a long, long time. Let’s talk about that in a minute but the first thing to talk about, really, is you run a program at the school of visual arts.


AC Yup.

PF What is the name of that program?

AC Uh [music fades out] the name is MFA in Products of Design.

PF Ok. That— [yeah] ok. Let’s break that down a little bit [laughs].

AC We should. We intended for it to be uh future proof and [uh huh] it actually came true because— well, I mean the idea was that everything is a product of design [mm hmm]. So each and every kind of design: uh graphic design; industrial design; service design; interaction design, social innovation design; tons of business design—

PF So a new design— like, you know, suddenly there’s a new kind of way—

AC Well, yeah, radically, you know, multidisciplinary or generalist anyway [ok] but what’s interesting is people see the word product design they think that we’re an industrial design program and we do teach industrial design—

PF Like make a teapot kind [yeah] of thing, yeah.

AC But the fortunate thing is that, I guess about four or five years ago interaction designers kind of like stole the term product design from [snickers] industrial designers—

PF Actually that’s— boy, we did, didn’t we?

AC Which is— it’s either like funny or heartbreaking depending on which side you’re on.

PF No, it’s funny for us. Yeah. We’re— we’re enjoyin’ it.

AC So many of my colleagues spent their whole lives trying to, you know, help people understand what an industrial designer was, you know you would— you would say well, “We’re— we design product.” [Oh!] Product design. That was easier. Now it’s just like, “Oh, what platform? Facebook?”

PF [Exhales hard] We destroyed everything with that—

RZ “We” is a lot—

PF No. But you know how many times have we said “product design”?

RZ We jumped on it. We did jump on it.


PF Yeah.

AC You know? Many people have said everything is interaction design, everything experience design. So—

PF It’s true.

AC Alright.

PF Alright, so tell us a little bit— this program, it’s a graduate program?

AC Yup.

PF And it has how many students—

AC There’s about 18 students a year. Uh it’s single track; every student takes every course, uh no grades which is really helpful uh cuz we want maximum risk and, you know, it’s point of departure is that uh and, you know, we’re really upfront about this that like everything’s broken. And so that everything can be uh reimagined. We’re I wouldn’t say cynical about best practices but we’re certainly interested in doing things in a way that we haven’t gotten good at doing them.

PF You gave me a piece of advice once um [uh oh] um that— No. It was very, very valuable. It was just that there’s a real difference between life and school.

AC Yeah.

PF And that when you’re in school and you’re learning that’s not practicing for the real world, exactly, it’s not like, “Here: learn these incredibly necessary skills for tomorrow,” some of that has to be there but for the most part it’s like, “Let’s break things; let’s figure it out. I want you to be thinkers.”

AC Yeah. I— I’m still really sympathetic with that um I think you need, you know, especially grad school, it’s just a two-year program, and, you know, they’re grownups, they’re people who chose to come back to school so there’s a strange— like when I’m meeting with potential students or prospective students and, you know, they have this idea of this place where they wanna be after grad school [right]. So they’re trying to find either the right grad school to get them from where they are now to this vision of the future or whether grad school at all is the right sort of medium to get them from here to there. Uh but the problem is that grad school’s job is to like mix you up, in that, you know, couple years between where you are and where you wanna be and, in fact, even within the first, you know, two months, where you thought you wanted to be like probably won’t look very interesting anymore [sure]. And also— you’re gonna— grad school’s other job is to show you all these other potential futures that you didn’t even know existed, many of which, as you know, don’t even yet exist.


PF What are some of the things they do in this remarkable journey?

AC You know, we have a— a real mix between very purposeful, very social projects and very fanciful and projects around— we actually have a course called Design Delight.

PF Ok.

AC Um you know a couple projects that stick out, Smruti Adya’s one of the projects she did— she was doing a project around prosthetics [mm hmm] uh and limb loss and limb difference and um a lot of these theses they can really turn on one sentence, like one of their subject matter experts or one of their, you know, user interviews will say something that will change everything. And so she was interviewing um a woman who had lost her leg and she said, “You know, late at night um when I have to go to the bathroom, uh sometimes I crawl to the bathroom. [Oof] Because it’s just— yeah. Because it’s just so onerous um—”

PF “I don’t wanna put my legs on—” Yeah sure.

AC And you know, that’s, you know, it really made an impact on Smruti and I think in like one or two days she just banged out this device, it’s actually— it’s on the website, called Swift and it’s essentially just a white tube that can expand a little bit and you would either print it out at Shapeways— you could, you know, measure and— and order a size or maybe there would be several sizes at— at Amazon and it’s just like this opportunistic limb that you can slip on, not have to crawl to the bathroom and then return to bed. So, those kinds of products are amazing to me because there’s not a— there’s a— it’s like an incredible lots for incredible little [right] um and I just love the idea of the power of design where you could make a small gesture and get an extraordinary impact from it um—

RZ Usually I— I think what’s—

AC And the visuals are very convincing. I mean like you— you should see the work.

RZ I mean oft— oftentimes that— when the design or the design arm of some big company, it’s usually driven by markets, right? [Mm hmm] Like it’s time for us to have little teeny Bluetooth headphones because Apple came out with little teeny ones [yup].

PF Right.


RZ So go do those, right? And that’s not driven by fundamentally a problem. Of course, everyone would like smaller headphones but really [yeah] the catalyst prove to be competition and [trails off as Paul comes in] —

PF Well and, “I’m gonna— I’m gonna put my mark on it.”

RZ You know and, “I’m gonna put my— we gotta—”

AC [Crosstalk] Oh for sure.

RZ “— have ‘em.”

PF Yeah. “Ours will be purple.”

RZ Yeah. Exactly which is— and— [stammers] that sits in such stark contrast to what you just described, right? Which is—

AC It does. I mean, you know, one of common denominators, which I actually don’t talk and think much about but for this moment I will, is beauty. I mean this thing— this thing’s beautiful uh and so there’s a whole spectrum of we could say “purposefulness” um in design, everything from, you know, what industrial designers would call like “skin jobs” like, you know, very styling, take a thing and just, you know, shroud it in something beautiful or really rethinking the problem. Some of the stuff that you do in reframing, let’s say you have a client comes to you and they think that they want something and, you know, that’s good enough to start but likely that’s not what you’re gonna end up doing and the problem finding uh the scoping, the reframing of the whole engagement is gonna be the most important part up front. That’s no less true for any kind of design in my opinion including uh product design, just product design’s really [chuckles] hard.

PF Right.

AC You know: materials; technology; labor practices; supply chain. It’s just endless.

PF We find this all the time. Like nothing that— people walk in the door and are ready to get that contract moving [yeah] and it’s we don’t want them to.

RZ Well, actually, it’s— it’s counterintuitive, right? We actually get ‘em— we wanna slow down for a sec.

AC Yeah, you wanna add some friction which they don’t wanna—


PF No! Cuz especially if they’re ready to go, it feels terrible—

RZ And also we wanna— we also wanna close the business. [Yeah] So it’s a little weird for us too but you also don’t wanna end up— end up down a path where it’s like you’re doing a thing that a) is untenable; or isn’t gonna make a lot of sense down the road.

PF You know what I’ve learned though is that everybody knows, like you just— you don’t wanna blow up that— that moment of fantasy is really important where your idea is absolutely transformational. Because the process whereby you actually start to go, “I’ve had a few of these ideas,” and then you start to sort of see them get poked at by reality as you walk around with them and then you figure out what you’re really in the business for, why are you doing this? You know? What change could you affect? Because kind of any— especially with technology, any technology idea you come up with: a smarter watch; a better hat. It’s doesn’t matter. Is going to be utterly world transformational and worth a trillion dollars.

AC It’s everything is— and everything is a platform.

PF That’s right.

AC Even if it’s not like unless you look at it at the platform level, you’re not looking at it. The systems mapping, I think, is the most valuable thing that the students do. Infinity mapping; system mapping [how do they— what’s]; user journey mapping—

PF What do those look like? Just—

AC The most basic one, and probably the funnest one is a mindmap where you’ll put let’s say the topic in the middle of a piece of paper and you’ll draw a circle around it; and then you’ll have these lines that radiate out like spokes on a wheel; and they’ll radiate out to other circles, the things that are related. So maybe— like my background is in medical design, so it might radiate out to— well, what we’re talking about, industrial design, let’s say ergonomics. And then it could radiate out to regulatory, and then it could radiate out to money. Uh and very close to that is gonna be insurance and then payers and payees will be around insurance bubble and then you start making smaller bicycle spoke wheels around each of the wheels, and all of a sudden you have this map on the wall. And then it’s a pretty quick trip to do what we would call a systems map after that which is—

RZ [Crosstalk] Well, ok—

AC— where you would start to organize this a little bit, it’s not just a big like blah on the wall. And when you show that to a client or to really anybody, it is likely the first time they’ve ever seen what they do, and it is often just, you know, they’re jaw drops. Because nobody ever showed them a picture—


RZ [Crosstalk] They finally zoomed out [yeah] and took a bird’s eye view.

PF Well, your own— your own process is a mystery, right? Like who knows your own process?

AC Absolutely. Same with students like they’re the worst— they’re the worst at seeing what they do or just a little edit that will turn something from good to like, you know, great [sure]. I mean you find with— with your clients, right? That you have to do that in the beginning or you’re— you know, you’re digging a hole that you’re gonna be in, sometimes when I say to my student’s, you know, when they’re like, “How should we write our thesis books?” I’m like, “Well, you know, imagine reading them.” [Laughs] [Right, right] Write them— write them as if you would actually have to read them and they’re like, “Oh. Ok.”

PF So students come in, they wanna make things, they wanna do things, design things, what are they— what are they like when they come out after two years?

AC You know there’s certainly converse— I wanna say that they’re multilingual [ok]. That’s— that’s ambitious but there’s certainly converse and they understand how, you know, VCs talk and what they worry about; they’re gonna understand how to pitch to foundations; they’re gonna understand UX, UI, lots of principles around graphic design and typography hierarchy. Just like all of it. It’s— it’s ambitious. The thing that we do is we have a lot of short courses instead of [huh] — we almost— we have almost no 15 week courses left. I believe that people can learn things faster than most people think that they can [mm hmm]. Also, graduate students worry, like they’re old enough to know, I— I’ve written about this, they’re old enough to know that they’re uh decisions have consequences so they don’t wanna negative consequences so they don’t wanna decide anything. So they read another book. And so when you have a project that is, you know, 15 weeks long, you know, they’ll start and then by week three or four like it’ll get hard. [Sure] You know, cuz like anything worth working on gets hard. And then they’re like, “Well, maybe I should try this other idea?” So then they go to their other idea and then three or four weeks later, that gets hard too cuz anything [snickers] worth on gets hard. And they’re like, “Well, you know, now I’m getting worried. Lemme go back to my first idea,” and then it’s just like this desperate rush to the finish [right]. I’m sure it’s the same— same in business, right? With a seven week course, you begin and then you middle and then you end, you’re ending after like class two or three um and you have to commit to idea— to an idea and just never, never give up. Like [mm hmm] no changing your idea. Of course it will change and evolve but no like starting like, “Oh well now I’m gonna do something around optics.” So we design out those weeks of anxiety where students will typically have like an [snickers] existential crisis but the best part is if we make a course from 15 weeks to seven weeks, we have a new seven weeks now that we can create a new course around [mm hmm] um and because we’re in New York and because a lot of the classes are in the evening, you know, I can get people to say yes to teaching who could normally never say yes to teaching like 15, you know, afternoons. But you know like Paola Antonelli can give us, you know, five evenings a year, right? Um—


PF That’s right. She’s the Exec Director of MoMA, right?

AC She’s at MoMA, yeah.

PF Yeah.

AC Uh she’s actually on sabbatical this year but and also like she can kill it in five weeks, you know?

PF Sure! Where do they go when they graduate?

AC I thought that it was gonna be just entrepreneurship city [mm hmm]. You know? It was so in the air, like I always conceived of it as a leadership program but I did have an idea that there would be more businesses launched out of it [mm hmm] and I think that I was a little naive— I’m Canadian. Still Canadian. I’ve been here for 30— 32 years.

PF [Laughs] It’s never gonna leave you.

AC Ugh. I wanted to vote. I mean, you know, it was the—

PF Yeah.

RZ Oh you’re still a Canadian citizen.

AC Yeah, I am.

RZ But residing here, in the US.

AC Yeah, so I underestimated just the— the financial burden of this thing. I mean—

RZ I was about to make a joke—

AC— you know, grad school is so expensive.

RZ— you just left ‘em with a debt [laughs].

PF Yeah.

AC Yeah, I know and they worry about that.


PF “You owe me 80,000 dollars and start a company— go start a company.” Yeah.

RZ “Good luck with your startup.”

AC And, you know, add— add to that the cost of living and eating and they’re not earning money, right? Like they don’t have jobs [sure] while they’re in school. So it’s a— the opportunity cost is immense, in any event— So they get the jobs at IDEO and Frog and SYP and Johnson & Johnson, like lots of really great companies. And then medium and small sized consultancies as well, and it’s really only in the last couple of years that the students are— are leaving those, you know, probably their second jobs—

PF Right.

AC— and starting out on their own. The other thing that I knew but I— I hadn’t internalized is that like nobody stays anywhere more than 18 months. So I can— I can calm some students when they’re so worried about like, you know, picking the right first job kind of thing and I’m like, “You know, don’t worry about it so much.”

PF “You’re gonna leave.”

AC “You’re— you’re gonna leave anyway.”

PF “In a year and six months.”

AC And this used to be more of like an advertising agency model [mm hmm], you know, you’d raise your salary by leaving every 16 or 18 months or whatever the convention but, you know, creative people are really restless. Um [yeah] and they want new challenges and, you know, school in a way makes that worse because it spoils them with all these fascinating things to do like every day of the week, every week of the two years, and then they get somewhere and, you know [well and also you’ve just given them—] it’s not inventions time every day.

PF You’ve given them the leaders of thinking in New York City around the field as their teachers, advisors, and friends.

AC Yeah.

RZ WHo— whose doing great work right now?


AC Well, actually, I mean back to one of my students, Souvik Paul, he’s actually turning his thesis into a commercial product, it’s called Cathbuddy. It was called Clean Cath. Two weeks before he came to the grad program, a friend of his was in a car accident and became paralyzed, so sort of back on paralysis. And he knew that for his thesis he wanted to— to do work around, you know, life in a wheelchair, but one of the things that he discovered is that there is a budget for how many disposable catheters you get a month if you are, you know, cathing and that it’s usually not enough, what insurance will pay for, and that people are sterilizing their own disposable catheters and reusing them. This is just like pretty specific design challenge. And they’re using like, you know, Clorox and microwaves and I mean it’s just [Paul sighs] — it’s a disaster out there [yeah], right? And so the risk for infection—

RZ Wow.

AC Yeah. It’s like — it’s a— it’s a big deal. So he came up with this device that would use a UV sterilization and you would put your used catheters into this device and it would sterilize them and then you could use them again. And he had really kept this dream alive since he’s graduated and worked so it’s gonna—

PF That’s great.

AC— it’s gonna be a real product. So like—

RZ It’s not out yet.

AC It’s not out but it’s like you think like that’s really like almost arcane. Right? It’s like a really, really specific but the numbers of people who use, you know, these products is extraordinary, so the scale of something like that could have really great impact.

RZ Also there’s no segmentation here. This isn’t a urban problem or an American problem—

AC Yeah, I know.

PF Yeah, you’re—

AC I think it’s a not talked about problem which makes it actually extra fascinating.

PF Your persona work is pretty simple on this one.

RZ Straightforward and it’s global in scale, I mean.


PF The other thing uh that I love is you and I love to talk about how we like really, you know, difficult, disgusting, horrible problems. And that’s a—

RZ Are you looking at me right now, Paul? [Laughter]

PF You and me. Yes.

RZ Yes, yes.

PF Yeah, we love to— we love to brag about it and that’s an actual like—

RZ That’s an actual horrible problem.

PF Cath— catheters that have to be clean where you can’t get the insurance money. So you had an agency.

AC Yeah. It’s— it was that but it was, you know, sister to uh a design like publication platform. So this is ‘95. I had graduated in ‘86 and ‘87 from Pratt with an industrial design degree and I was— I did my thesis on stick proof hypodermic needles. So hypodermic needles where you couldn’t get an accidental needle stick.

PF Gotcha.

AC Uh HIV/AIDS was like new and everyone, you know, all the healthcare industry was like freaking out. The world needed a device like this. I mean now it’s like mandated by law but in those days it didn’t exist and no one could spend anymore money on any kind of—

RZ State the problem, again.

AC Um, you’re taking blood or [huh] you’re giving a shot [yeah] um and you remove the needle from the arm and you turn and accidentally um, you know, stick somebody [mm hmm] or you’re sheathing um the needle with the needle cap, the plastic cap, and you miss it and you jab your thumb.

RZ Yourself.

AC Um I worked for a year and a half in that area, ultimately it expanded to um a phlebotomy which is a fancy word for laboratory blood collection. So looking at the whole, well, user journey of blood from when it leaves the arm to when you’re gonna get, you know, a result. So things like, you know, when you put blood in a test tube— we’re getting very detailed now, right? Um that blood builds up pressure and so when you open up the rubber test tube top it can aspirate into your face, um and you can contract HIV/AIDS through your eyes that way. Um this is getting lovelier and lovelier, right? Um so I graduated and I knew I wanted to go into medical design. I always had like a big problem with solid waste. I knew I wanted to design things but I couldn’t stand the idea of mass production in just garbage. So I went into medical design. The joke’s on me, of course, cuz, you know, medical design creates more plastic than anything [crosstalk and laughter] and it’s like incinerated so it’s like extra bad, right?


PF It’s not like a styrofoam wrapper for a hamburger. That’s like [Rich laughs].

AC Oh I mean the mechanics in some of these devices like surgical staplers, I mean and it’s all just thrown out after a single use. I got to continue my interest in HIV/AIDS, I worked in secret on a project for Johnson & Johnson, it was the first home— uh home HIV test kit.

PF Sure.

AC But they weren’t ready to put their name on it and so like we couldn’t tell anybody we were working on it. Mackenzie was involved; the FDA; [wow] C. Everett Koop, if you remember this very beloved [yeah] Surgeon General [yeah]. Uh you know so I’m like behind the one way mirror like testing the design of this— of this kit that you would essentially prick your finger and then it provided a dry blood sample and then it— it sent in the mail but we knew that we were, you know, we— even in those days, we didn’t call it like, you know, user segmentation but we knew that we were really looking at sexually active teenagers; we knew that we were looking at, you know, in all candor, like cheating spouses [sure]; we knew that we were looking at groups that are high risk for HIV; and that this thing was gonna be done secretly and in some like with a lot of anxiety [mm hmm]. And so pricking your finger—

RZ Lock the bathroom.

AC So lock the bathroom. So thank you. That’s the first place is where is this is gonna happen? It’s gonna happen in the bathroom. So in the bathroom, not a lot of horizontal surfaces. Right? So we actually had to create—

PF Ahhh.

AC— a surface, this kit actually unfolded into a surface because we knew that it was gonna be in some sense laying in the sink.

PF It’s not a desk.

RZ You’re on toilet.


PF You’re not in a lab. Yeah.

AC Well it’s before phones, so— you’re not in the toilet that long. Yeah. Um well and then it gets— so you have to get rid of the evidence, so the kit has to somehow go away.

PF Yeah.

RZ Alright. So wait, I’m trying to visualize it, so you’re in the bathroom, maybe you got on the floor, maybe you sat on the toilet. You open this kit up, it kinda creates almost like a— I guess a tray.

AC Kind of a flat surface. Yeah.

RZ A flat surface. Ok. Next.

AC The big battle was the pre-test counselling.

PF Ok.

AC Because there had never been— there’s no precedent for a home diagnostic kit, like a pregnancy kit for instance, of a fatal disease [right]. Right? Um also the false-positive and false-negative was really, really important here because—

RZ Stakes are high.

AC— even if you were negative, you had to be re-tested in three more months [right]. Right? And it had to be private. So the idea— we came up with this like barcoding system where you would pull out this ticket and we shaped it in the size of a credit card so it was a very familiar shape. And you could put it in your wallet and hide it.

PF Right.

AC But if you were in a situation where you weren’t hiding this kit, where you were with a partner, and you were both doing it, let’s say, then that number would be on there. Ultimately there was a 1-800 number and the way that it shaked out was that if it was negative, you would get a kind of recording and if it was positive, you would get a live person [mm hmm]. So this was really hard to do and there were two different land sets in the package cuz sometimes you miss on the first one cuz it really hurts [sure]. So even if you miss and you don’t get enough blood, you have to do it again. And you’re really scared to do it again. Like I’d come home with these like sore fingertips for weeks [right] um—


PF Oh cuz you have to test this thing, constantly.

AC The full user journey, right? So now what happens? You haven’t— it hasn’t worked. You take it back to the drugstore and you want a refund? This is supposed to be anonymous. Right? There’s no name attached to this. You’re not registering to do this. So— so thinking through these just unbelievably complex—

RZ Sure.

AC— thorny user experience design issues.

RZ Also, there’s— there’s blood on stuff.

AC The whole thing is just— [yeah]. You know back to the pre-test counselling— or the no pre-test counselling because C. Everett Koop was so beloved in those days, I think a deal was made probably bar— uh you know, brokered by Mackenzie and FDA that if C. Everett Koop wrote the— the manual then that, in some sense, would count as pre-test counselling. I mean it really came down—

RZ That’s ridiculous.

PF Woah!

AC — It really came down to, like, “Listen: people should go to a clinic. They should go their doctor.” [Right] And then on the other side it’s just like, “People don’t go to the clinic, they don’t have a doctor, people are dying. Do you want this kit with a booklet? And no pre-test counselling in person? Or we’re gon— or nothing?” And so it became this really— it was an extraordinary—

RZ It was a lot at play.

AC— moment in time. Yeah.

RZ Yeah.

AC So as— and every one of these was just such an unbelievable design decision. It comes on the market, it’s ripped off in one day. [Someone whistles in disbelief/amazement] Right? The knockoff like same forward factor; similar graphic identity; basically the same layout. I think it was on the market— J&J was on the market for I think a year or two only, you know they really need a homerun with J&J like just the scale—

PF It’s a giant company. Yeah.

AC Yeah, so they, you know, have to sell a lot of anything and they’ll— they’ll sink, you know, huge sums of money into R&D for a product and if it doesn’t go, it doesn’t go. Um—


PF This is not something you can market like Q-Tips.

AC No and all of— I mean imagine those meetings.

PF Yeah.

AC Right?

PF Well that’s just giant company, too [yeah]. Like what are you gonna do? You got Mackenzie and the FDA in there. It’s a tornado. [Yeah, yeah]. And little Allan just trying to do his job [laughs].

AC Yeah, you know, I was just— anyways, so um I started teaching in 1995 and that’s where I met Eric Ludlum and Stu Constantine who were the founders of Core77 and Pratt was smart enough— for their thesis they wanted to make a website. So this was like two years into the World Wide Web and um and that was the year that I started teaching and Pratt was smart enough to hire them to design their first website and gave them um a room and a T1 line which you will appreciate.

RZ Woo!

PF Yeah.

AC Yeah, right?

PF Wooooo!

AC Um and essentially like incubated them when that word wasn’t a word yet [sure] and so in those days I would teach like a full day which was amazing. Like three hours in the morning; three hours in the afternoon; like sophomore id studio. You could show a film; you could have a discussion; do critiques. It was amazing.

PF Oh so it was a good thing?

AC It was a good thing.

PF That much teaching?

AC Yeah but I had a lunch hour and I—

PF I’m tired just—


AC — well yeah, now it’s like unimaginable [laughter] but I’d go there— I’d go there at lunch time and uh to the Core77 office and I would like learn HTML.

PF Sure.

RZ For those that don’t know what is Core77? Let’s—

AC Uh so Core77 was actually the first design website online. It specialized in industrial design. So it had a very tight like per-view. And Stu and Eric talk about it that they created the site that they wish they had when they were looking for grad schools.

PF Sure.

AC Um and it had all of these sections, it had a resource section. Um like you remember what things were like in 1995, right? It was like web 1.0. Um—

PF There wasn’t that much web!

AC No, no, I mean and it was— you know these were static pages. I actually had a column called Contraptions. Stu and Eric tease that I— they say that I was first design blogger which actually might be true cuz I— I would pick like a funny object and write like some pithy paragraph about it and do like five of them a month kind of thing.

PF I’m just worried Jeffrey Zeldman will burst through this door.

AC I know. Yeah [laughs].

RZ He’s coming for us from three blocks away.

AC Yeah I don’t know [Paul laughs] if there were web standards either. So I— I got to know these guys and um— and then there was a project that uh I was consulting with Ayse Birsel for Herman Miller. It was this brand new— you might remember a system called Resolve, it was based on 120 degree angles instead of 90 degree angles.

PF Oh that’s right! It was the future of the cubicle!


AC Yeah it was— it was phenomenal.

RZ Oh!

PF Yeah.

AC And then the first Dot Com bust happened, you know, eight months later. Like Herman Miller couldn’t build enough factories to make enough of this stuff and just— it was just unbelievable [Paul crosstalks]. No, in the contract furniture industry, that’s the first to go.

PF Oh ok. Oh, that’s interesting.

AC That was heartbreaking. Anyways, so I started doing some consulting with Stu and Eric at Core77 and uh we did this project for this Resolve system and it actually won a lot of awards like, you know, The Gold Pencil and the Silver Cube, I actually like have those engraved [mm hmm] and all of a sudden, Herman Miller starts calling and said, “Well, can you do that for our system?” [Sure!] And then we started to do all like the physical computing in our—

PF Ah that’s for young designers, what’s a better than a call from Herman Miller?

AC Well, yeah and [26:19?] was around and, you know, we worked with a lot of amazing artists. From ITP and—

PF That’s really close to like the core, right?

AC And they’re design-driven, right?

PF Yeah.

AC So, yeah we couldn’t ask for much. Anyway so I ended up like running a lot of this stuff in between like, you know, managing editing, um—

PF I see you’re always teaching.

AC Yeah, it’s a long time.  Yeah.

PF Yeah.

AC It’s probably 23 or 24— 24 years. And then um so that design publishing went on a long time and Core grew, the web grew, like everything exploded.


PF Are you connected day to day? Are you kind of advisory now?

AC You know I’m on— I’m on partner meetings [ok] um you know most of my life is at SVA right now.

PF Right.

AC But yeah, no, it’s um—

PF It’s still very much part of your life.

AC It’s, you know, there’s not a lot of things that have lasted that long.

PF No.

AC Uh that are really about, you know, making design connections and helping people find either fascinating things to care about or fascinating opportunities, you know, job opportunities or finding talent.

RZ So, Allan, design— it feels like somebody made two or three billion stickers that say “design” on them [yeah] and gave them out to everybody [yup], designers and non-designers, [yeah] and now there’s— there are design stickers on everything.

PF Well there’s design stickers on giant consulting firms around technology, around— just everybody’s a designer.

RZ The way a term’s like, you know, “customer journey” get tossed around. I mean it’s a strange— I’ve watched this not as a designer but more as a spectator—

AC Mm hmm.

RZ— and seen I think it’s the last ten years, more like five I feel like it really started to heat up.

PF Well, do we— let’s— let’s actually— you’re saying, let’s ask Allan: do you feel that design has been commoditized in the last ten years? In a way that it wasn’t before?

RZ Or describe this, like I— it’s just exploded and one I— I mean you can put on one hat and say, “Isn’t this great? Finally we’ve arrived.” And then there’s the other hat which is, “God we’re being— I mean it’s just— it’s been diluted into shit.” Uh give me your perspective on where we’re at today.


AC I think the first thing to notice— like so I’m not cynical about this, like the first thing to notice is that design has moved from something that is seen as aesthetic and coming at the end to something that is truly strategic, you know? And coming at the beginning. Adn like you understand that better than anybody. Right? You know? Again, you’ll make something beautiful but in a— in a Bucky Fuller kind of way if it’s the right solution, it will be beautiful. You don’t have to make it beautiful. So I think that there’s a new appreciation that—

PF If you like domes.

AC If you like domes.

PF If you love a dome.

AC Yeah.

PF Yeah, ok.

AC And then the other thing that, you know, people love to make fun of is design thinking which, you know, um even Tim Brown would like argue is just it’s pretty common sense. Right? Like work with your user; uh listen; prototype early; and then do it again. You know and iterate. And like don’t be an idiot. Basically. Like those [Rich laughs] are it. That’s design theory.

PF That’s the man who runs IDEO.

AC Yeah.

PF Yeah, that’s Tim Brown. Ok.

RZ Um design thinking is a wonderful thing.

PF Well [sighs] —

AC Well but people— but people make fun of it. And I think that a lot of people who make fun it— I mean first of all: the word, I talked about this in that no meeting article [], the word thinking is in design thinking and everybody knows that design isn’t about thinking, it’s about making stuff. It’s about doing.

PF Right.

AC Um so right away it’s tricky um and then the idea is that if you thought about something hard enough then you— you would solve it, and that’s like ridiculous. I also think that people who criticize design thinking have actually never been in a design thinking workshop. Like I’ve run one uh with a bunch of um doctors and some managers and med students at Jefferson University just a couple months ago, and it’s like they see God. Like they can’t believe, they come up to you after and they’re like, “I can’t believe . . . I didn’t know about any of this. I can’t believe the notion of iteration. I didn’t even know that word, for instance. I didn’t know that we could make a low resolution like, you know, prototype of a webpage on a three— you know on a mobile app on three Post It notes and actually see something that we’ve been sitting in meetings just talking about and doing nothing about.” It’s like a revelation to them.

RZ Mm.


AC So I think that people would be less willing to criticize—

PF Well that’s the conversation where design thinking is brutal in the marketing message.

AC Well and that’s the thing is journalists like to talk about the over promise of design thinking [right] and of course that’s bad. And again the over promising is— is part of the problem, the— the— the journalism of the over promising part is— that’s a fun article to write. You know? So.

PF Well there was also a moment where everything kind of caught fire and went too far. It’s like TED was a good example like [mm hmm] 90 percent of the TED content is typical magazine style content. It’s pretty packaged up and then 10 percent is a little woo woo [mm hmm]. And fine, ok. Like that’s— that’s how America works and how we consume content but there was so much of it at one point that everybody was like, “I’m gonna make fun of this now.”

AC Yeah, yeah, no, and I mean I think everything comes up for parody at a certain point [that’s right]. You know I liked it before it was cool kind of thing.

PF Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

AC Um so I see the more people talking or thinking about design as an actual process and not as a thing, as an artifact, like the better. That is—

RZ It’s really value.

AC Especially in a world where, you know, cynically, you know, it’s all about extracting value. Like the design process adds value.

PF Right.

AC Um and the earlier the better. Um I know Postlight’s like super design driven and you have a place, you know, you understand that everything, you know, starts and ends with design.


PF Thank you, you’ve saved us 30 seconds of marketing [Rich laughs].

AC Yeah. Ah it’s really, really true.

RZ If you don’t mind [Paul laughing, Allan crosstalks] we’re gonna use that clip—

AC Yeah, for sure.

PF “Allan Chochinov says,” [Rich laughs] um you know a tricky thing too is the process can be really goofy, and that it’s hard to like it’s hard to commoditize like goofy thinking—

AC Uh and— and risky, I mean if you’re a designer, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity [yeah] and business is not comfortable with ambiguity. Like they— they’re in the risk reduction business, right? A lawyer is too. Regulatory too. Policy too. So—

PF One of the ways that I think we’re able to get stuff—

AC— it’s antithetical to a lot of people’s like you know—

RZ Sure. It’s scary.

AC— way of life.

RZ It’s a scary process.

AC It’s really scary, yeah.

PF One of the ways we get things across the line is just it’s so hard to ship software that people accept— there’s a point about halfway through on a lot of projects where we’re like, “You know, I know when you walked in and you said this and this and we said we didn’t know, we weren’t a 100 percent sure. It actually turns out that instead of A and B, C’s gonna be the better path.” They’re so anxious about not shipping that they’re able to sort of like process and listen and react to that because they’ve had experiences where things haven’t gone out the door because people have tried to do everything for them.

RZ Also transparency is key there [yeah] like you can’t show up and say, “Listen: um it’s gonna be path C.” They— they have to have seen how we got there and involved—

PF Rich has a wonderful maxim which is nothing’s bad news uh 60 days ahead.


AC Oh I love that. Mine is everything’s shitty until it’s better. You know?

PF Right.

AC Everything’s worse until it’s better.

PF And if you just keep telling the story and they know that like, you know, path C is probably gonna be our option but it’s two months before delivery date, everyone is gonna calm down.

AC Well do you think that— that scale like that number 60 changes depending on how, in some sense, in love they are with their own idea before they managed to get to you, to find you?

PF [Exhales] We— we—

AC Like how dug in they are to like, “We know that this is—”

PF We destroy the love at outset of engagement.

RZ Well, it’s— it’s— we have very much— we don’t report back, we’re more like, “Come on in. Come sit. [Yeah] At the table.” And you know that virtual table is Slack today. We don’t do the weekly report. We’re like, “Here’s what’s going on. Come on in.” Sometimes they don’t do it. They don’t come in. And then they just show up and they say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And—

PF Actually not— not of the current class. Like we’ve got most of that out of the business.

RZ Yup. It’s— it’s very—

PF It’s too risky.

RZ— collaborative. And because we want them to, first off: we want to have them in the room as we talk through the problem because a lot of times they’re the domain experts, not us. We’re just—

AC Oh yeah.

RZ We’re still trying to learn their world.

AC Well I think appreciation for local knowledge is a nice tenet of design thinking.

RZ Absolutely. Absolutely.

AC It’s like not everybody— the client isn’t an idiot all the time.

RZ Exactly.

AC Kind of thing. Um. Yeah.


PF We are done with that. Like that— when we started this firm, my instinct was the clients were gonna show up and they were gonna show up and they were gonna be smarter than they used to be. The consumer of a platform company services is often a— a product leader on the other side and they— or they are experienced or they— also the— the resources for learning for what apps and what platforms and APIs are are— are so much better than they used to be [mm hmm]. So they come in pretty educated.

AC Well and they also have consumer experiences on their devices [that’s right] that are like, “How come our work doesn’t work like this?” [That’s right] Like, “How come I don’t have a dashboard for this for my business but I do for my jogging?”

PF Yeah, that’s right.

AC “You know my running.” So, maybe half the battle is done for you. Maybe not half but at least they understand power of design, they may not understand the actual, you know, plumbing of it.

RZ I think it has to do with— and I think you’ll see this even right up to big consulting, I mean the message now is, “We’re gonna worry about these problems with you. We’re gonna work through this. Design is part of the whole story. Here. Rather than it’s a bolt on.” And— and we say that, and so when people come to us, they kind of have an idea of how it’s gonna go, that we’re not a just raw engineering shop that is gonna take a blueprint and just produce the thing.

AC I just wonder— you know one of my favorite quotes is Petrula Vrontikis, she’s a— a designer and a teacher in California, she says, “I work with my ears.” And so I wonder sometimes like well what kind of clients come in here where you’re mostly listening and what kind of clients are coming in here where you have to just help them understand like who are; what you believe; the process; the kind of team that you have.

RZ Usually when they come here, there is so much bottled up. We go into pure listening mode. We just— we don’t even wanna actually have a dialogue much. We just sort of let them go.

AC Put it out like let us see the reality of what you’re worried about, basically.


RZ Exactly.

PF Around about minute 50 of a meeting—

AC Yeah.

PF I— I think like, “Oh, you know, we should tell them what we do.” Seriously like that’s—

RZ We gotta let ‘em go and do the thing and then little by little we start to get into the— the conversation. You’re gonna know pretty quickly um whether this person is going to relinquish a lot of that control to allow us to do our thing or if it’s— if it’s going to be too tight and it’s gonna not allow this to be a success. And we can see it. Usually in that first or second meeting you can tell.

AC Yeah, I’m sure you have really good instincts as well. Well lemme ask you the magic wand question like if you had a magic wand, what would you want that person to ask you or to know about you in those initial meetings where they’re trying to understand like, “Do I need design?” Like, “What is design capacity gonna do for me?” And I mean sort of where we started about choosing, you know, whether to go to school at all or with school and if your organization is the right fit for them. What would they ask you? Or what would they tell you that you couldn’t sort of sort of interrupt them at minute ten, say, “Listen, can you—”

PF No, I mean—

AC This would be helpful.

PF For me, and Rich you might have a different point of view, but for me it’s just it’s very much— it takes a long time to get to the user. People have their— they have their peers and their business—

AC They have the wrong user usually.

PF Yeah and they’ve got the CEO and they’ve got so many anxieties. They have either money they have to spend or money they have to go ask for and—

RZ Promises they’ve walked around for bigger companies.

PF And who are we? Who the hell are we?

AC Oh right, of course, like you’re not necessarily the only people they’re talking to.

PF No and so they’re— they’re trying to figure us out. And so it often takes I think really three or four conversations until you can finally relax everybody and they can say, “Yeah, no, I know exactly who the user is here.” Right? But they cannot relax into that on that first meeting. It’s actually very closely held information.


RZ It’s often ambiguous. We had a client, the message was: there’s a big event coming in 90 days. And we wanna do a thing so that there’s— we make a good impact at the event.

AC Right.

RZ Like ideas came out like you know you pop the confetti thing? [Laughs]

AC Exhibition design; branding; the whole brand environment.

RZ They didn’t know. They had ideas. They had sketched stuff out. And they had what was actually great was they had this timeframe which we were able to use as sort of a forcing function [yeah, that’s true] to say, “Alright, listen: some of these are great and 3D is awesome.”

AC [Chuckling] “But 90 days is 90 days.”

RZ [Laughing] “But we’re 90 days away.” Right?

AC And you’re budget’s your budget.

RZ Exactly. That steering process and then eventually you have to give us the keys, right? We’re like, “Ok, we gotta run fast here.” I mean that is the reality.

PF You’re gonna set up the server, you’re gonna put it on Rails at that point.

RZ Yeah, yeah. And— and—

AC And you might not get to test it so much.

PF No, that’s right. That’s right like—

AC Cuz an event like doesn’t slip. That’s— that’s the scary part of that.

RZ It doesn’t slip.

AC It’s just like, “Well, if we wait three more, you know, weeks, it’ll be, it’ll be [exactly] —”


PF No, it won’t get better and we won’t fail. Like we won’t let you fail. And so we actually have to build that relationship. The good news is that the people who are right over your shoulder watching every little bit, they tend to be super cheap. Like they don’t wanna pay. They wanna watch you and they wanna tell you how to do it and they’re gonna— they’re gonna watch every minute and so by the time we get even— even to back of envelope, they’re gone.

AC They’ll know. You know that chart? It’s like, you know, design fees? You know whatever it is like 500 dollars, you know, if I do it [yeah], 750 if you watch me do it.

PF Yeah [laughs].

AC You know? 1100, you know, if you’re in the room, you know.

PF That’s right.

AC Um and it just gets more expensive the more um [laughter] — there’s a bunch of these things on Instagram. They’re pretty great. I’m gonna find one and send it to you.

RZ It’s also— I mean we think about the designers, it’s pretty demoralizing if you’re just— if somebody took your hand while it’s on the pencil [yeah] and are just constantly in there. It’s very—

PF It’s not good.

RZ It’s not good.

PF Alright, Allan, what do people do to get in touch with you?

AC I’m not much on Twitter. I mean I’ll be on it cuz I feel like I have to be on it. I like Instagram for hobbies. So that’s a good place to find me. Um, you know, you go down to but uh probably SVA is gonna be the— you know where you’re gonna see the most exciting stuff. So.

PF Where? What is the name of the program?

AC It’s uh Products of Design, it’s plural.

PF Alright.

AC Oh and I have this whole essay on changing the word “meeting” to the word “review”. Uh the argument is that if you use the word— if you had a review at three o’clock this afternoon, you know, you’d look like an idiot showing up empty handed to something called a review. But if you had a meeting at three o’clock like whatever, no need to prepare. So um this idea came up um in a— in a staff meeting from Alisha Wessler, our Director of Operations, and, you know, it was like, “Can we— can we reimagine the word ‘meeting’? Can we actually just change it in the department?” And she said, “Well what about the word ‘review’?” I was like, “That’s it!” So I went back to my computer and I downloaded an autocorrect Chrome Extension and I made it correct one word, whenever I typed the word “meeting”, it would change it to the word “review”. And then I went into my iOS and did the same thing. Um and so I spent seven months not being able to type the word “meeting”.


RZ How’d that go?

AC It was awesome. Because you type “meeting” and then it changes it into “review” and you’re like, “Oh no, actually, we should probably ask people to like do something before we take their time and get together.”

RZ Huh. I’m applying this test right now, so it’s like—

AC Yeah.

PF No, it’s not— it’s not— don’t just bring your ideas. Bring a plan.

AC Anything— any kind of prototype.

PF Yeah.

AC Um and so one of our faculty, Bill Cromie, actually built a custom extension called No Meeting. Uh so you don’t have to like type in anything—

RZ [Crosstalk] God bless web extensions—

AC No, and get this: he came up with this idea to make a Slack bot, which he did. Which you can find at this— at this article. So when you type it into Slack, if the No Meeting Slack bot is in there, then the Slack bot will pop up and it says, “Hey, I noticed you uh typed the word ‘meeting’, would you like me to change that to the word ‘review’ so that people always come prepared to future gatherings?”

PF Allan!

RZ This was great.

PF Yeah. I could listen to stories about medical devices being designed for the rest of my life.

AC Well, thanks for having me.

RZ Allan, thanks— thanks so much. [Music fades in] This was great.

AC Yeah, this has been a thrill.

RZ A lot of fun.

AC Thank you.

PF Hey, if anybody needs us,, that’s the email that you could send to and it would go to me and Rich and we’ll forward it to Allan if you have any questions for him.

AC Ah, totally.

PF Alright, let’s get outta here. Let’s hang out and talk about medical devices [music ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out to end].

Nov 27, 2018


Photo by Joe Lewandowski on Unsplash

It’s Black Friday Forever in America: This week on Track Changes we ask the question on everyone’s minds: Are we happy that Amazon has come to Queens? On one hand, our own consumer choices have brought this upon us. Amazon is great at eliminating steps (hey there Same-Day Delivery and 1-Click Ordering). But on the other hand, we're now reliant, and can't live without them. Is Amazon is obsessed with scale and expansion? Will New York tolerate not owning an entire sector of the economy? Is any mass-expansion good for society?



Nov 20, 2018

Everything You Like Is Garbage: You know the creepy feeling of walking into a dark room and finding your kid hunched over the iPad with their eyes glazed over? So do we. On this week’s episode, Paul and Rich talk about addiction and obsession —  words that are used interchangeably but that speak to different experiences. What kind of parenting decisions need to be made when kids are addicted to screens? What are Silicon Valley parents doing for their kids in response to the tech they push into the world? We discuss how kids are adaptable and curious — Rich, for example, grew up in a bookless home on a steady diet of Tom and Jerry cartoons, and he turned out fine! We also let you in on our own obsessions, chocolate, watches and old book collections.






Rich Ziade It is something! There is— it’s about two-thirds of the way into eating the chocolate. It’s kind of odd and then—

Paul Ford You can’t chew.

RZ You can’t— no, you won’t get it. You won’t get that buzz.

PF It lives under your mouth. It’s— it’s like— it’s like a drug.

RZ It is and it starts to hit like brain centers.

PF Yeah—

RZ And it gets weird.

PF It’s like Klonopin for rich people.

RZ [Laughing] So melting Klonopin.

PF Yeah [music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. We should talk about the things that we’re obsessed about that aren’t technology. Just to frame it a little bit.

RZ Ok.

PF You like chocolate.

RZ I really, really good chocolate.

PF It’s pretty exhausting. I gotta be honest, to— to be your friend but, at the same time, once I finally gave in and was like, “Alright, let em have it.” Cuz your— you’ll come up with what looks like a— like an overpriced candy bar and you’ll be like, “If you chew this I’ll punch you in the face, ok?” And the first few times I’m like, “This is just annoying.” I’m just waiting for something to get squishy. But then the reality is that with some of them you give em a minute—

RZ It’s kind of incredible.

PF And they start telling you a little story.

RZ Yeah.

PF They’re like, “Oh I was once a bean in the mountains [yeah] of Vietnam [yeah] and then someone picked me and then I’m— nothing really too much happened to me after that because I’m a single source [sings] chocolate bar!” [Both laugh] What are some of the brands?

RZ Uh there’s a— a brand called Amadi. By the way—

PF Yeah that’s the one.


RZ— Godiva. Godiva is like—

PF Booo!

RZ— is like—

PF No, that’s the thing: lemme just tell everyone: everything— every chocolate you’ve ever liked, unless you’re in this world, is garbage and you’re an animal for eating it.

RZ Ok. So. Godiva is like the Banana Republic of chocolate.

PF Right.

RZ It’s kind of pitched as higher end [Paul laughs] —

PF It’s khaki pants of chocolate.

RZ [Laughing] But it’s actually if you really go shop at Barney’s [yeah] and the fancier shops, Banana Republic isn’t really higher end. Tell me— tell me one of your obsessions, Paul.

PF [Sighs] I have a lot of nerd obsessions like I, you know—

RZ We all do.

PF Yeah. Non-nerd: I really do like getting on eBay and looking at old books, like— and especially lots of books like— like eBay lots, like thousands of books or—

RZ Like you’ll get three boxes.

PF Yeah, not three! Sometimes 2,000. Sometimes it’s like the whole library is— is the personal library is getting unloaded or the— the used bookstore is going out of business. And I think there’s a lot of intertwining fantasies there which is like I love books. Still do [yeah]. I mostly don’t buy them anymore because they take up a lot of space; I live in an apartment, and— [sighs] —

RZ And you read on your phone.


PF I read on my phone and I have enough stuff.

RZ Yeah, yeah, yeah.

PF But there’s a part of me that just really appreciates books. The— I still have thousands at home and I like to through them, I like to look at them. And I have associations with all the spines and— and sort of what they all mean [yeah sure] and I love old reference books, things like that. So I really like older stuff. There’s— it’s funny because I— I love, you know, there’s a part of me that really feels I should be interested in like rare volumes from the 1600s, like that’s the true bibliophile [hmm] but it’s not. What I like is the old encyclopedia from like 1890 about manners or about etiquette [hmm] or just like random stuff [yeah]. So they’re very soothing, these obsessions.

RZ And I get it. And— and— first off: you make me sound like an eight-year-old. We talked about chocolate for a minute and then—

PF No—

RZ— we got into your wonderful obsession with books.

PF [Chuckles] Not really because uh we— we should share with the YouTube video— or we should share the YouTube video of people eating the Almandi chocolate and sniffing to the sound of Steely Dan. That— they put up—

RZ That’s Joe Cocker. [Paul laughs] It’s bad. It’s not good. It’s not good.

PF And this is not— this is not for kids is what that says.

RZ No. No. This is for sophisticated adults.

PF You need to really enjoy the fine stylings of Joe Cocker.

RZ While you eat chocolate. Are obsessions good?

PF I think that— well it really depends. There’s some really bad obsessions that people can get.

RZ Addiction.

PF There’s addiction and then there’s also like I— I don’t know [sighs] it’s a real— it’s a really tricky one. The Kardashians is a good example. Some people have a really fun, silly relationship with that show and they think it’s [mm hmm] really interesting and they get a kick out of it and it tells them something about their own lives and they really like. Other people are— are just hating themselves cuz they can’t have a 4,000 dollar handbag.


RZ Right they’re not gonna be happy.

PF Yeah.

RZ It’s— it’s an— an unreachable quality of life, status, that just people dream about and obsess over. That’s a bad obsession. That’s a bad obsession.

PF The chocolate is ultimately like a relatively medium-sized indulgence. You know, it’s just—

RZ It’s— it’s also—

PF It’s literally the—

RZ It’s ephemeral. I’m not gonna put it in a shel— on a shelf.

PF No, it’s the cache you have in your— I don’t really want the books when I’m looking at them.

RZ I don’t— I mean I wanna eat the chocolates and that’s that. [Stammers] —

PF I pulled a few triggers. I got— I wanted um old copies of The Whole Earth Review which is kind of an unusual magazine that came out in the eighties. And— nerdy, but I wanted copies of Omni Magazine which was like an early—

RZ I remember Omni.

PF I wanted the originals. I wanted to see the ads. I wanted to remember [yeah] sort of how it felt [yeah]. So I bought those. It cost a couple hundred bucks. So I mean it’s— it’s— there’s— and then they took up— they take up a lot of shelf space though and then I’m like—

RZ It’s the feeling of this thing that I think about a lot, that I possibly can’t have, and when I do have it, I find some joy. I mean you— [I think there’s—]. You’re not well if you’re sitting there rubbing the book for days on end.

PF That’s right.

RZ Like that’s not what it’s a— I— I like watches. It’s another [that’s right]. I don’t know if I’d call it an obsession.


PF I don’t— it’s not an obsession. It seems to be that there’s almost a therapeutic function, right? Where you’re like, “I’m kinda stressed or stuff is going on or I just like— I need something to do for a half hour to settle my brain down.” And that’s when I see you creep over to your RSS feed of watch blogs.

RZ Awristocrat!

PF That might be—

RZ That’s spelled W-R-I-S-T. I don’t wanna collect em. I like having them. I tend to get tired of them—

PF I can vouch for this.

RZ I don’t really want a room like a closet full of watches lined up.

PF Well and also not to get into the numbers but we know some people that have done really, insanely well for themselves. Your collection is very nice and very special and very lovely but it’s not earth shattering.

RZ No. No.

PF You— you have— it’s not museum quality.

RZ Not only that, I don’t want them long term [yeah]. I mean there are a couple that I’ve tied to events in my life that I’ll probably hold onto but the other’s are like, oh— ok. That was fun.

PF Yeah—

RZ That’s the thing.

PF I got my pleasure out of this—

RZ It’s not a material possession thing. Or an asset. Some people are like, “If I hold onto this for 20 years it’ll be worth three times as much.”

PF It really is about the emotional reaction.

RZ Yes.

PF I think once you get into the asset that’s a whole different set of emotions, right?

RZ Yeah.


PF Like for me I have limited— I don’t wanna move— I have limited shelf space [yeah] and so there’s a sort of like, what’s the most meaningful things I could put on that shelf? And then—

RZ Question. Let me ask you a question: is it— do you love the physical object when you talk about your books or are you talking about just purely the content— [Paul sighs] cuz if it’s the content you could probably find it online or wherever.

PF Oh the content’s everywhere. Yeah that’s not my worry.

RZ Is it the physical thing?

PF It’s the physical thing. It’s the space it takes up. Like how am I gonna apportion that space? What’s valuable?

RZ No, no, but your love for it to begin with?

PF I really do love it and the one of the things—

RZ The physical thing.

PF If— if I had more time, I would spend more of that time like with books and a notebook. That would be really satisfying.

RZ Ok.

PF I actually have a process, I really like reading. Occasionally I see something interesting, I would take a picture of it and tweet it [yeah]. Like that would be pure happiness for me [yeah]. I just don’t— especially with having little kids like, you know, they go to bed around 8:30 and I— I just am not gonna sit at a table and read for two hours.

RZ Yes.

PF I’m gonna goof off and watch some TV and answer emails.

RZ Alright so let’s pivot into something that’s kind of, sort of sits as a juxtaposition when people talk about experiences today. Now, even if you weighed into our industry—

PF Well I can— I can bridge this for you. There was just a big Apple event, it was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.


RZ That’s a beautiful space, by the way.

PF It is. It is.

RZ I live near it.

PF Somebody was worried that— that Apple had bought it.

RZ Dude, there were Apple flags [Paul laughs] all around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and, by the way, there’s an Apple Store across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music [Listen—] that is absolutely striking and it looked like it was over.

PF Yeah.

RZ [Laughs] The dictator had arrived—

PF Like there’s a big floating—

RZ— the flags had been planted.

PF There’s a giant Tim Cook head just sorta hovering.

RZ [Laughs] Yeah and it’s like— yeah. And— and—

PF “Strength through iOS.”

RZ And you better start singing their song. If you don’t start singing their song, they’re gonna put you on the trucks and off you go.

PF I think a third of America would probably pledge to Apple if it said, “We are the new government.”

RZ I think so! So it looked weird, you know why? Because it was— it was nondescript. Apple being Apple there wasn’t a single word about what was happening.

PF Right, so it’s just like, “Our presence is here.”

RZ It was just apples with swirls of colors modify— modifying the logo. That’s the experience and look [stammers] —


PF Well and Apple’s— people have been obsessed with the Apple brand since the seventies.

RZ Yes. Because it tried to humanize something that was— that felt very difficult to touch and to come near.

PF And then, I mean, even before Steve Jobs, there were pictures— people shaving the Apple logo in their heads. And then—

RZ It was a big deal.

PF— as Jobs sort of made it more and more kind of this cult of quality, it got more and more intense, and I think that didn’t exactly scale.

RZ No but—

PF The brand works harder than any other brand.

RZ It really does and— and they’re— I mean you can’t deny the craft that is— that is just—

PF Well this is supreme, I mean I have—

RZ— touching every aspect of the product.

PF It’s almost inconceivable how— what these things are. Like every little piece represents thousands and thousands of person hours [yes] of unbelievable labor going back 40, 50 years. I mean they— they just are kinda— they just encapsulate all human culture [yes] into this tiny little box.

RZ Well, I mean, we’ve really reached a threshold where I think we’re— people are starting to get scared. We talked a few minutes ago about obsession being get. Like your love of books is just a wonderful thing to talk through and talk about. I love watches but I’m not consumed by them. You wouldn’t call it an addiction. And what you’re hearing more and more of lately is the— the words obsession and addiction being used kind of interchangeably.

PF That’s right and we’re very worried about children and phones.

RZ Children and phones [yeah] and there was some articles—

PF And iPads and—

RZ Yeah. There were some articles recently where The New York Times said that in silicon valley, where they conjured up all this shit, they’re obsessed with their kids not using their phones.

PF That’s right. I have an answer: just get your kids Chromebooks [music fades in] because they wanna throw those in the garbage. It’s wonderful.

RZ Hard.

PF Oh I love it.

RZ It’s hard [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down].

PF Rich, let’s interrupt our marketing podcast [music fades out] to do some marketing.

RZ Despite what all these inventions do to your brain, Postlight’s really good at building them.

PF We are [Rich laughing]. No matter what. No matter how many children’s brains are ruined by small devices [Rich laughs], um we are the device children ruiner— no, we’re not. We make really great software—

RZ We channel a very different set of obsessions around great design, great engineering to build really great apps, really great platforms.

PF We’re ethically concerned, too, we’re not going for addition. We’re not that kinda shop.

RZ No, no.

PF You call us because you have a business model and you want— now we love when people engage and are connected to stuff.

RZ Yes.

PF You know, we want people to really—

RZ No, engagement’s part of success for us, for sure.

PF We love people to use our stuff but we’re not— we’re not trying to figure out how to keep you on that phone for eight hours a day. Uh but we can help people— you know, when they open up a Postlight app, they think, “Wow, this looks, behaves, and operates exactly like the other really good apps that I’m used to.” We are— we’re at a very high level of quality, we take it very seriously. It’s— we’re not the cheapest for that reason but we’re pretty good.

RZ Very reasonable.


PF We are overall when people work with us over time they come back again and again and again. We love that.

RZ Visit and you will see a bunch of work [music fades in].

PF That is true. Take a look at our work and send an email to [music plays alone for six seconds]. First of all: most of what children like to do with a screen is consume media.

RZ Sure.

PF When we grew up, we had, you know, Commodores and Amigas and Macs and whatever and you had to do computer things with computers because they wouldn’t play videos. Not really. Not until the nineties, and even then it was like little crappy videos [yup]. The current state is, you know, which of a hundred billion hours of video can I watch before somebody realizes that— you know, like when my parents are sleeping in, I wanna— like my kids will just sort of negotiate for computer time and the computer time that they want is Netflix and YouTube.

RZ Understandably.

PF Yup.

RZ I mean it’s kind of magical. You’re holding this thing that’s a pound.

PF It’s not just that though. They— if I remind them or if I say, “No, you can’t have that but you can have,” and then the number two thing that they like to do— and there’s lots of games on there, cuz it’ll play Android games, I will say like, you know, it’s just like Barbie—

RZ Shopping Barbie.

PF Yeah, Shopping Barbie or weird like princess games and so on and [yeah] there’s a profile of my children in Russia that’s probably about 700 pages long at this point [Rich laughs] but the um if I say, “You know what? Take some time on Google Maps and go look around Staten Island,” they love it.

RZ I mean that’s wonderful. It’s exploration.

PF They get to see the whole world. They get to see it.

RZ Sure. Sure.


PF It’s like— like you’d imagine with kids, they wanna see their house [yeah] and then they wanna see their school and then they’re like, “I’ve been there,” and it’ll be relatively close by, it’s Grand Army Plaza [of course]. So they love that and then Google knows everywhere my children are looking and that’s cool.

RZ And they’re in your house. Yeah. [Paul laughs]. So ok so. Let’s bring this into the whole—

PF Well see Netflix—

RZ “Ok. Let’s avoid kid addiction blah blah blah.”

PF I mean let’s look at how the different companies react to this, right? Like Netflix just goes online, “You’re gonna binge watch this garbage and we’re gonna continue to shovel it down your baby bird mouths and you’re gonna give us money every month. You’re gonna forget how much you’re paying and you’re just gonna suck it up through your nose like cocaine.”

RZ Worth noting: there is no setting, in Netflix, to not make another show start when one ends.

PF Oh yeah!

RZ It probably would take an engineer and a QA staff [no] a day to put this switch in.

PF Netflix is the product equivalent of dumping a like a bag of candy hearts on the floor and saying, “Go, pig.” [Rich laughs] You’re— and you’re like, “I don’t even like candy hearts!” [Makes gross chomping sounds].

RZ “But ok!” [Laughs]

PF That’s— that’s my experience of Netflix.

RZ So. Alright. Let me— let me rant for a second here. It is scary I mean a kid— they do have a glazed look in their eyes if you leave em too long holding an iPad or a Chromebook.

PF Oh, you know what’s bad? I got my kids sound cancelling headphones cuz I’ve got twins, right? [Oh god!] And they can’t— and I have this issue where every now and then the light’ll cut out in the room where it’s kind of my office space where they have their computers so I can watch them. So if I’ll like walk away, I tend to be kinda— I try to be close unless I’m asleep when they’re using the machines and they don’t get a lot of time with them but when you walk in and the room is dark and the screen is on their face and they’re wearing headphones, I’m like, “I am breeding monsters.”

RZ Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


PF This is— like it needs to feel public and they need to be connected and near other humans when they’re using this stuff. I don’t— it’s pretty bad when they just lock in.

RZ It’s scary. It’s scary. Right. So this is the fear and this fear is actually even more pronounced than Silicon Valley where they, frankly, invented a lot of this stuff which is, you know, New York Times wrote it up as almost this kind of irony.

PF I’m so tired of all the drama though. “Oh! Oh! Oh!” Cuz here’s what— Silicon Valley’s so proud of itself for destroying the world.

RZ It’s—

PF They love to fantasize about all the incredible cultural power they have. They can’t build a skyscraper.

RZ It’s this [both laugh] —

PF [Laughing] That thing— they built one good skyscraper—

RZ They can’t. After five stories, they’re fuckin’ confused.

PF Everything is sinking!

RZ They are confused.

PF You know they’re like, “Oh hey, we dug a hole four blocks away and we destroyed this skyscraper.” I’m like— what did we— New York City [yeah], we sure as hell can’t build Google.

RZ No.

PF But, you know, we’ve been doing that since 1910 [Rich laughs], you know, maybe you could’ve sent somebody over.

RZ It takes like three weeks.

PF Seriously.

RZ “Holy shit! When did that come up?!?”


PF Why don’t you just bring your— bring one of your iPhones out and take some pictures of the Woolworth building which went up [Rich laughs] in like 1915 and then take that back to San Francisco— what the hell, even email it over wireless. We have that in the parks. And uh and then maybe, you know, what you do is when you get the architectural renderings, I don’t know if they’ve ever seen this, you get the blueprints and you just write the words, “Don’t sink.” [Yeah] And that’s actually how the people in construction know but anyway San Franc—

RZ They love to signal out that they’re seeing things that other people aren’t seeing.

PF That’s right.

RZ They love to say, “Oh my god—”

PF They— oh yeah [whistles].

RZ “We are about three years ahead of this, guys, let’s talk this through.”

PF The phone emergency.

RZ All of it, right?

PF Yeah, they’re really into like— this is the thing: they’re kinda missing climate— we’re not gonna get to really, really strong AI taking over the world before climate change destroys all the computers. Like we’ve, you know, [Rich laughs] like [stammers] like I know Moore’s Law.

RZ We’re losing that race.

PF I know Moore’s Law! We’re gonna get— it’ll just be like Seamless’ll be really fast and then one day there’ll be four feet of water in front of your door. Like you’re not gonna get a really great, intelligent assistant.

RZ True. So wait! I mean is it legitimate?

PF It’s a lot of consum—

RZ We have to watch with these kids staring at their phones like passively?


PF Of course, of course you do. But you know what? God. Uh. As a parent, first of all: kids need to wind down like anyone else. It’s what you put in the brain.

RZ Ok.

PF Like uh maybe I’m lucky. I have good readers. I have very active, healthy kids. They’re healthier than I ever was. And they’re engaged and they have friends. They have all the regular problems that kids have, but it’s not cuz they’re watching an extra hour of Netflix every week. This is not really what we’re talking about. Now if my daughter was playing Candy Crush obsessively, you know, at age eight or nine, she’s seven now, then that’s an issue because that is like— that is a growing brain that has given itself entirely to Candy Crush.

RZ Yeah. You have to diversify the experiences.

PF And I have— my son likes YouTube cuz he loves to watch other people play video games and people are very paranoid about it—

RZ Well that’s a big thing, right?

PF I watch it really carefully. Everybody’s worried about strange alleys but, I don’t know, I keep a pretty close eye, I kinda know what’s in his cue and—

RZ I’m not sure if that’s that much different from watching other people play sports.

PF It’s like anything, I see— I have a little boy who loves to run and play soccer.

RZ Again: same parallels, right?

PF Yeah.

RZ Uh I mean that kid needs to run and play soccer, otherwise they go bonkers, and like my boy but—

PF If he tries to convince—

RZ— frankly, watching sports isn’t [yeah] destroying anybody. Uh people have been doing it for many years. At first they couldn’t watch it, they’d have to listen to it.

PF There’s so many other things to panic about.


RZ I’m gonna rant for a minute here.

PF Rant!

RZ My parents weren’t reading a lot of books. First off: there were no websites about how— we fled a war and we were immigrants in the country. I watched probably eight to twelve thousand hours of a mo— of a cat trying to eat a mouse.

PF [Laughs] And What’s Happening!!

RZ And [laughs] —

PF There was a cluster of after school reruns on when we were kids.

RZ Dude, it was— I— if you— we just— we just took a shit on Netflix. If you put on Netflix and wanna teach your kid the value of green vegetables [yeah] there is a cartoon for the value [oh yeah] like understanding and appreciating the value of green vegetables.

PF Have you seen the show Hilda?

RZ No. They’re all spectacular, dude.

PF Oh it’s a charming narrative of a little girl with trolls. Oh, it’s wonderful.

RZ Everybody’s learning manners! They’re learning how to eat [uh huh]; they’re learning about the world. There’s this show called Super Wings.

PF That’s right. And when they’re ready for Hitler, there’s 40 or 50 thousand shows to watch.

RZ Just a channel away [laughs].

PF Yeah! And then you switch to Amazon Prime and you got a hundred thousand.

RZ [Laughs boisterously] So, look, man, I’m not saying I came out great. That’s questionable [Paul laughs] but shit!

PF That’s a lot of podcast right there.

RZ I watched a lot— a lot— my mom was a smoker and she was going through a lot of stuff [uh huh] and it was hard, it was a new country, and I am just eating up Tom and Jerry. It’s a cartoon where a cat is trying to eat a mouse [sure] and it’s the dumbest thing you ever saw and I thought it was really funny [mm hmm] and I’ve watched the same episodes of that cartoon probably hundreds of times and I’m ok. I think—


PF When did you— when did you actually start reading? Was it law school? Was it undergrad? Like not learning to read but like there’s a point where you started to read a lot of books and a lot of stuff.

RZ It was probably undergrad.

PF Yeah.

RZ Yeah.

PF That’s the big difference, right? Like I think the only thing that would’ve been different in your life is if you’d started earlier.

RZ I think that’s right. I also was very fortunate you could pop open the back of an Apple 2 when I was 15.

PF Yeah. See but you had to read and learn about how that worked too.

RZ I did. I did.

PF And, you know, you’re reading the catalogue, you’re reading the computer magazine. Like you wanted access to that world.

RZ True. That’s true.

PF Yeah so that— This is the thing that people miss about technology and I think this actually does get— it kinda takes us all the way back around. When you’re young, the world inside of that computer is a whole world and that was true whether it’s an Apple 2 or the phone, and it is actually— people are worried about Google and they’re worried about Apple. See I don’t— when you’re a kid and when you’re a teenager you know that there are forces outside of your control that are much bigger than you and you can’t tell which ones are good or bad and you don’t really trust any of them.

RZ True.

PF What kids are doing right now is they’re looking at their phones and sometimes they’re mindlessly consuming content. As they get older, most kids get real suspicious and they start to take it apart, and they start to wonder what’s going on.


RZ And I think that’s really cool and, you know, you’re seeing a lot of products out there like little bits and— and where you can actually take apart the toy and make a different toy out of the parts because there are no screws on that iPad. That thing is sealed tight [that’s right]. It’s just a magic box to them [mm hmm]. They have no idea. They don’t even call it a computer. It’s just this thing that just has an endless supply of stuff.

PF Yeah and this is uh—

RZ I want them to be able to interact which, by the way, there are some wonderful things out there on an iPad or on a Chromebook, where they interact and they explore [dude] and they learn and they build. I had none of that.

PF Listen to me: we got you and me saying, “Oh it’s wonderful to explore.” And you’ve got the people in Silicon Valley saying, “Keep it away from them cuz it will destroy them.” You know what’s really gonna happen? Human beings have their own will and they’re pretty mischievous and they like to tear things apart like primates.

RZ True.

PF Teenagers will ruin everything. This current generation will come up and they will see Facebook and they will see Twitter and they will Google and they’ll be like, “What is this trash? It’s just been around forever.”

RZ That’s very true.

PF And you’re gonna go work at Google, it’s gonna be like going to work for the phone system when we were kids [yeah]. I mean it’s just like— this world will collapse into itself and that doesn’t mean that billionaires won’t remain billionaires or giant organizations won’t exist, it just means that tech moves fast, people can create what they want in order to communicate, and nobody maintains a lock in. So I’m just sort of like— we’re talking and we’re worrying about children because they don’t seem to have a lot of power but they have a lot of will, and they will start tearing all this stuff down to shreds.

RZ I think that’s exactly right.

PF And if you won’t let it and you lock em down, then they’ll go do something else.

RZ And— and I think the best thing we can do is to encourage that. I do think there’s a crossing point that if you let that kid— I do have— I’ve had friends over and they’re ten or 12 and—


PF Oh and the kid just stares.

RZ He’s— he’s just not— they’re it’s their babysitter, right?

PF Yeah, see—

RZ And the iPad is in their hands and their heads are down and they don’t— they don’t even say hello.

PF My kids— my kids wanted an iPad at four and I was like, “Eh.” [No] Cuz it’s too much like candy. Just little rectangles of delicious candy.

RZ It’s the passcode for us. We have an iPad, they don’t know it. And if we tell them, “You’re gonna get 15 minutes,” you’ll get 15 minutes.

PF Yeah. What is your— let’s close out on this: what is your um we said non-nerd obsessions earlier [mm hmm]. What’s your nerd obsession?

RZ Emulation.

PF Oh really?!?

RZ I love emulation.

PF It’s funny cuz we don’t talk about this that much but I’m pretty obsessed with it too.

RZ I know. It’s so cool. It just makes me happy.

PF Tell the people what emulation is.

RZ Emulation is when a machine transforms itself to behave entirely like another machine. So if you own—

PF Usually an older machine. Not always. But usually.

RZ Usually an older machine. I remember when they tried to press the gas and like the N64 emulator came out around when the N64 was out.

PF Yeah, it was like Mario could hop once a minute.


RZ [Laughs] But you know I mean credit to them for trying it’s like, “Wait a minute, it’s the same CPU, we can do this.”

PF This is— this is the super nerd like power play is to be an emulator writer cuz—

RZ Ah! It’s so badass!

PF— what you’re doing, you’re simulating another piece of hardware in software.

RZ Yeah. It’s so cool.

PF So that people can like play their games or run their software.

RZ And when the archive put out like, “Yeah. Here’s 11,000 arcade games you can play in your browser.” It’s over.

PF Internet Archive, yeah. That’s good. That’s the work of our friend, Jason Scott.

RZ And I was like, “Well, that’s that!”

PF And thousands of other people over time.

RZ Uh it’s just really cool. It’s cool cuz I like to see the glitchy startup. I like— [yeah] I like to see it boot up cuz it’s truly emulating. It’s not a port.

PF No and it’s rough around the edges, you know, you’re just like, “Oh this is where we came from.”

RZ What about you?

PF I like to research things actually. So lately I’ve been researching storage a lot. Like there’s just— I wanna know like what would it take to get a petabyte of information. This is actually inspired by Alan Kay who was a really uh important thinker in early technology and sort of big at Xerox PARC who at one point wrote an article about how what they were building was sort of the ten, 15 year later computer. You know they’re— they built these computers at Xerox that cost like 120,000 dollars in the seventies so like as much as a house.

RZ Yeah.

PF And— but they were trying to be desktop computers and I’m just sort of thinking to myself like what would the equivalent machine be for 15 years from now? And it’s gonna something like that— it’s gonna be, you know, what we think of now as almost infinite storage and [yeah] the processors can’t get too much faster but there were gonna be a lot more of them and there’ll be lots of little— so I just sort of— I like to continually come back to that mental exercise because the moment that we’re in now where five companies control the world and— and everything is sort of online and works in a certain way is going to change. And I just— I need to keep that in my head so that I feel like I’m adapting and ready for the future.


RZ Right. Growing up, Paul, I loved Legos.

PF Sure!

RZ And what I loved about them is obviously that they allowed you to be creative [mm hmm]. You could build stuff. I used to build houses and if you looked in the window of the house there was a little living room [mm hmm] cuz I’d make a couch and put it in the house [oh yeah] and a little table and a little TV. And my— my son gets Lego box gifts all the time.

PF Oh god yeah. No. Infinite supply.

RZ And they suck.

PF Yeah.

RZ Because it’s a little bat mobile.

PF Yeah.

RZ And the pieces are extremely specific to building just that batmobile and the instruction manual is 22 pages of how to make the batmobile and nothing else. And they— they have taken all the oxygen out of the room and there is no room for creativity and he can’t do anything else with those pieces. And this is more fundamentally my fear with where technology’s gone in that the controls that have been imposed—

PF “Follow these instructions to get this great outcome.”

RZ And you can’t come outside those guardrails, right? Like you can’t leap em.

PF Well cuz that used to be you were exploring your world and kind of figuring out— humans, you know, we’re primates. We wanna know where’s the— where are the boundaries? What’s the territory we can get to? [Exactly] What kind of power can we have? And you had a power where you were like, “I can make a house.”

RZ Yes.


PF “I am a house maker. I wasn’t that before and now I am.”

RZ Exactly. Exactly.

PF I will say it is fun to see, you know, I’ve got seven year old twins and now they get those and they follow the instructions together and they make them and then they tear them apart and they go into the mulch supply of the regular Legos which they still play with. So it’s working— it’s working at that age but [yeah] it— it actually— when they were younger which your son’s about a year younger, when they would get the toy, they would really feel obligated towards the toy.

RZ “I want the thing on the box”

PF That’s right.

RZ And that was it. And that was it. And beyond that and when you broke apart, which is did, it’s Legos.

PF Of course.

RZ They viewed it as broken.

PF No, it— as they grow that becomes a more ephemeral experience except for the people who get obsessed with Legos and want everything to be perfect.

RZ Right.

PF So, obsessions! Good or bad?

RZ Who knows?!? [Music fades in.]

PF Alright, Rich, let’s get out of here.

RZ Yeah, I wanna go use my phone.

PF I’m gonna have some chocolate. You getting chocolate?

RZ And I’m gonna stare at my watch while I eat chocolate. I have chocolate. I will give you chocolate. We will have a couple of chocolate links next to the podcast.

PF You know if you ever wanna work with us, there’s a very good chance you will have a piece of chocolate given to you in that first meeting.

RZ Excellent chance.

PF You just have to bring it up. We don’t like to showcase this too much cuz—

RZ No. No, no.

PF— people are like, “What?!”

RZ “What wrong . . . with this person?”

PF Yeah but if you want that piece of chocolate and even if you just want a little conversation: That email goes straight to me and Rich and uh we like to talk.

RZ Have a great week.

PF Bye, everybody [music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, fades out to end].

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